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Will sponsors and women desert the NFL over Roger Goodell’s handling of Ray Rice video controversy? (updated)

Roger Goodell at Super Bowl XLVII. (Charlie Riedel / AP)

Updated with FedEx statement

Sponsors such as Nike and Electronic Arts have ended their relationship with Ray Rice, but, so far, the sponsors whose big bucks help fuel the NFL are standing by the league.

That doesn’t mean they aren’t monitoring the situation as an  investigation into Commissioner Roger Goodell’s handling of the incident in which Rice knocked out his then-fiancee. It also doesn’t mean that women’s groups won’t be pressuring sponsors to pull out the dollars they shell out for advertising on TV and elsewhere. The possibility that the league’s bottom line might be affected is the biggest threat to Goodell’s future as commissioner.

The problem for Goodell and the NFL is that women make 70 percent of “important family decisions,” according to Ann Bastianelli of Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business, and are an increasingly big part of their audience, thanks to initiatives it took to court women (and their money) after incidents involving Rae Carruth and others in the late 1990s. Scarborough Research found that women represent approximately 45 percent of the NFL’s fans and almost 33 percent of the its viewing audience, based on Nielsen data reported by Sports Business Daily last fall. As women started coming to the NFL, it found new partnerships. A number of the league’s sponsors, like Procter and Gamble, specifically target women and P&G’s CoverGirl brand is the NFL’s “official beauty sponsor.” There’s also a highly touted line of apparel designed for and marketed to women.

One of the league’s blue-chip sponsors, Marriott, has been taking heat from customers on Twitter. In a canned response, it tells them that it is “closely following the situation.”

“We trust that the NFL will address the matter appropriately,” a statement on the hotel chain’s Twitter account read.

FedEx shared the same sentiment in its official statement

The timing of Ricegate is horrific for the league because, not only is it taking attention away from the first two weeks of the season, the NFL will in just less than three weeks launch its annual breast-cancer awareness month. October is the time when it clothes its players in pink. For now, “A Crucial Catch” will proceed. Tara Peters, vice-president of media relations for the American Cancer Society, told Ad Age that, while the Rice matter is a “serious issue … it’s not related to the breast cancer issue.”

The National Organization for Women called for Goodell’s resignation on Wednesday, returning to the theme that women particularly are angry. “The NFL has lost its way,” she said. “It doesn’t have a Ray Rice problem; it has a violence against women problem.”

And there’s another big issue. In calling for Goodell to resign if the allegations that the NFL had video of the Rice incident are true, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) mentioned that the two words that, besides money, can make owners quake: Anti-trust exemption. “The NFL has an obligation to do better, and a position of public trust – benefiting from broad anti-trust exemptions granted by Congress, and hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer benefit,” he said in a statement Wednesday. “If these allegations are true, Roger Goodell is part of the problem, and he is incapable of achieving a real solution.”

Now, two of the owners who employ Goodell and paid him $44 million last year, will work with former FBI director Robert Mueller III to find out what was known and when it was known. That leaves a lot of time for women — and fans in general — to express their opinion on the matter with their wallets.

More on Roger Goodell, Ray Rice and the NFL

Does the NFL have a women problem?

Former NFL players sound off on Twitter

Goodell cancels public appearance